Online comments are almost never, ever a good thing. One Duke University professor found that lesson out the hard way.
Jerry Hough was a Political Science professor at Duke. In response to a New York Times editorial on racism in Baltimore, Hough wrote the following:
“I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.”
The bizarre comments, naturally, stirred up quite a bit of outrage. In an effort to explain his comments, Hough wrote to the Duke Chronicle:
“The context was the editorial on Baltimore which instead of calling for the resignation of the mayor as happened in Ferguson—and, in my opinion, both should have resigned—blamed everything on white racism. I thought it was an outrage when in Baltimore they were following the old game of trying to injure a rowdy prisoner without getting marks on the prisoner by throwing him around the van.”
Not helping things.
According to the Chronicle, the school’s Vice President for public affairs and government relations, Mike Schoenfeld, called the comments “noxious and offensive” and said that they “have no place in civil discourse.”
Hough is now on academic leave; however, that leave was planned before these comments were ever made. In further comments about the online comment (try to keep the comments straight here), Hough refused to apologize, and instead doubled down in an Email to the Associated Press: “I only regret the sloppiness in saying every Asian and nearly every black,” he wrote in the email. “I absolutely do not think it racist to ask why black performance on the average is not as good as Asian on balance, when the Asians started with the prejudices against the ‘yellow races’ shown in the concentration camps for the Japanese…My purpose is to help achieve the battle of King’s battle to overcome and create a melting pot America.” He also said that it was hard to be subtle an an online comment.
And that’s the rub. Forget, for a second, if the comments were meant racially or not (for his part, Hough says he had no racist intent and describes himself as a disciple of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.): Online comments have no room for context. They have no room for intelligent debate. And more often than not, they are filled with lunatics who have nothing better to do with their time than insult people. They are, without a doubt, not the place for an article and mature conversation. By and large, it’s a mistake to even try. Regardless of how Professor Hough meant his comments, they came out terribly, and should never have been written in the first place.